NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Federal investigators have identified a person of interest in connection with the explosion that rocked downtown Nashville on Christmas Day and were searching a home associated with that person, law enforcement officials said Saturday.
Investigators from multiple federal and local law enforcement agencies were at a home in Antioch, in suburban Nashville, after receiving information relevant to the investigation, said FBI Special Agent Jason Pack. Another law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said investigators regard a person associated with the property as a person of interest in the bombing.
Also on Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a report that tissue samples found at the scene were determined to be human remains.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said police were responding to a report of shots fired on Christmas Day when they encountered a recreational vehicle blaring a recording that said a potential bomb was to detonate in 15 minutes. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad.
“Shortly after that, the RV exploded,” Drake said at a midday news conference.
Metro Nashville Police put out a photo of the RV that exploded as it was spotted in the area earlier in the morning.
Surveillance video that appeared to be recorded from across the street captured an audio recording that included the warning, “... if you can hear this message, evacuate now.” The blast was captured on the surveillance video seconds later.
(Listen to eerie recording, watch surveillance below)
Three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition Friday evening, Mayor John Cooper said. Authorities don’t know whether anyone was in the vehicle when it exploded, however.
Police believe the blast was intentional but don’t yet know a motive or target, and Drake noted that officials had not received any threats before the explosion.
On Friday, Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said Friday that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give more details.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, said spokesman Joel Siskovic. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.
BREAKING: This is the RV that exploded on 2nd Ave N this morning. It arrived on 2nd Ave at 1:22 a.m. Have you seen this vehicle in our area or do you have information about it? Please contact us via Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463 or online via https://t.co/dVGS7o0m4v. @ATFHQ pic.twitter.com/JNx9sDinAH— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) December 25, 2020
A Philadelphia man staying in a nearby hotel said that when he heard the blast, he was knew it wasn’t a harmless noise.
“It was a very loud explosion,” said Joseph Fafara. “We tried to rationalize it that it was an earthquake or something. But it was obvious it wasn’t an earthquake.” He said he traveled to Tennessee with his family on Christmas because the state has looser COVID-19 restrictions than Philadelphia.
Fafara went outside to look at the damage but police barricades had already been put in place.
Black smoke and flames were seen early Friday billowing from the area, which is packed with bars, restaurants and other retail establishments and is known as the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene.
Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard. An AT&T facility was among the buildings affected. Some service was interrupted, the company said via Twitter.
“Service for some customers in Nashville and surrounding areas may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and working as quickly as possible to restore service,” the company tweeted.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water pouring down the ceiling of his home. Alarms blare in the background and cries of people in great distress ring in the background. A fire is visible in the street outside.
McCoy says he says he heard gun fire 15 minutes before the explosion rocked his building. McCoy said the windows of his home were entirely blown out.
“All my windows, every single one of them got blown into the next room. If I had been standing there it would have been horrible,” he said.
“It felt like a bomb. It was that big,” he told The Associated Press.
“There were about four cars on fire. I don’t know if it was so hot they just caught on fire, and the trees were all blown apart,” he said.
President Donald Trump has been briefed, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere, who said that Trump, who is spending the holidays in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates. The U.S. Justice Department said Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.
President-elect Joe Biden was also briefed on the explosion. The message from the president -elect and Dr. Biden was that they “thanked all the first responders working today in response to the incident, and wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said the city was lucky that the number of injuries was limited.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington contributed. Beaty reported from New York.